Wharton is US News’ Top Grad School

For the second time in three years, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School captured top honors in U.S. News‘ new ranking of the best full-time MBA programs in the U.S. Wharton knocked out both Harvard and Chicago Booth which shared first place last year. HBS and Booth slipped two places each into a three-way tie for third place with MIT Sloan, while Stanford’s Graduate School of Business gained two places to rank right behind Wharton in second place.

For the top ten schools in U.S. News’ latest MBA ranking, it was as if someone simply reshuffled a deck of cards. Only one of the ten highest-ranked MBA programs held on to the exact same position as it had in 2018: No. 6 Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Otherwise, every other school changed rank, most by merely one or two spots. The two exceptions: Columbia Business School, which improved by three places, to rank sixth, and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, which dropped three spots, to rank tenth.

Two years ago, Wharton took first place in a tie with the Harvard Business School. This year, winning sole possession of first place by moving up from last year’s third-place finish, is only the third time in 30 years of U.S. News rankings that Wharton is at the top. The school made its move by gaining the highest score available from the magazine’s corporate recruiter survey, a score of 4.4 achieved by only Stanford, Harvard and MIT, while boasting the highest average GMAT score for the latest entering class, a 732 average, also matched by Stanford and Northwestern Kellogg (Columbia reported an average GMAT score of 736 for its August-admit class, a score that falls to 732 when the January entering class is added in the mix). Wharton also reported, according to U.S. News‘ calculations at least, the highest average starting salary and bonus for the Class of 2018: $165,528, slightly more than $2,800 more than the MBAs from Stanford.


There were more notable changes among the schools ranked in the top 25, however. The University of Southern California’s Marshall School rose to its highest rank ever in U.S. News, jumping three spots to rank 17th. For USC’s business school, the improvement marks the third year in a row of ever improving rankings under Dean James Ellis whose controversial firing by the university is looking more than ever like a major blunder (see At USC’s Business School, An Outraged Faculty Tries To Understand Their Dean’s Ouster). In the past three years alone, Marshall has moved up 14 places from a rank of 31st in 2016. The school’s best U.S. News ranking had been achieved 15 years ago in 2004 when its MBA program was ranked 18th.

Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, meantime, advanced six places this year to re-enter the top 25 at a rank of 21st, while the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business jumped nine spots to rank 25th, from 34th only a year ago. Kelley made its comeback thanks to significantly improved placement stats, bumped by putting in place a team of four development officials in Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta and Bloomington who nurture corporate relationships in key regions of the country. Those officials helped to boost three-month placement rates to 95%, fourth best in the U.S. last year for an MBA program. Two schools slipped out of the top 25 to make room for Indiana and Florida. Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business and Washington University’s Olin School of Business, which were in a tie for 23rd place last year, both fell into another tie at 26th with Notre Dame University’s Mendoza School of Business.

One of the major benefits of the U.S. News ranking is the standardized data collected by the magazine to compare and contrast the best MBA programs. That data clearly reveals continued strong demand for MBA graduates by employers in the U.S., even as it has become more difficult for international students to gain work visas.


Some 19 of the top 25 schools posted job placement rates of 90% or above within three months of graduation. The best rate—99.1%—was reported by the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. In all, 45 of the top 97 schools placed 90% or more of their students within three months of commencement.

The top 25 exceptions mostly narrowly missed the 90% mark and is more of a reflection of the self-confidence of graduates and a strong job MBA job market than any indication of a lukewarm reception. In this top group, the lowest placement rate, for example, was at UT-Texas (85.9%), followed by Stanford (88.1%), followed by UCLA (88.7%), Harvard (89.3%), Carnegie Mellon (89.6%), and Yale (89.8%). The ranked MBA program with the lowest placement numbers? The University of South Carolina’s Moore School at 63%, most likely because its global focus means graduates have more difficult job searches for international positions.

Another sign of the MBA job market’s strength can be found in the starting salaries and sign-on bonuses being awarded to graduates. Average salary-and-bonus packages are well into the six-figures at 47 of the top 51 schools, led by Wharton’s $165,528, Stanford’s $162,704, UVA Darden’s $160,711, Harvard’s $159,314, MIT’s $159,245, and NYU’s $159,021. Those numbers, moreover, do not include other guaranteed compensation nor do they reflect equity awards to students landing jobs with tech companies.


It is also becoming evident that the methodology used by U.S. News‘ to rank business schools increasingly is unable to differentiate the MBA programs. This year, 18 of the top 25 MBA programs shared their numerical ranks with other schools due to ties. In four instances, for example, three schools were all tied for third, sixth, 12th, and 21st place. Two schools were tied for tenth, 17th, and 19th places. In fact, 84 of the 98 ranked schools on the list are locked in tied positions.

Those ties didn’t prevent the ranking from some wild roller-coaster results. One in four of the schools that remained on the list from last year saw either a double-digit rise or decline in 2019. Iowa State University’s Ivy College of Business soared 32 places to rank 47th from 79th just a year ago (see table on the following page for the MBA programs that improved their ranks in double-digits). Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management plunged 21 spots to rank 74th from 53rd last year (see table for the schools that declined by double-digits). Seven business schools dropped off last year’s list entirely, replaced by other rivals. The highest ranked of the new entries is Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business at a rank of 63rd. Two years ago, Freeman’s full-time MBA program had been ranked 73rd by U.S. News.


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